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The Trailblazing Trainer


A campaign is being launched to win recognition for one of horse racing’s unique and forgotten pioneers, Ellen Chaloner.

Ellen, the trailblazing trainer became the first woman to be given a permit to train horses by the Jockey Club in 1886 and a year later tasted success at Royal Ascot when her filly Jersey Lily won the Triennial Stakes.  Yet she is a forgotten woman in British racing.

However, a campaign led by her great granddaughter Marietta Krikhaar aims to raise the profile of Ellen, who along with other members of a horse racing dynasty are buried in two unmarked graves at Newmarket cemetery just across the road from the Rowley Mile racecourses where some of her horses would have run at the end of the 19th century.

“It is sad that the British Racing World has almost forgotten this famous woman. I now plan to make every effort to succeed in my campaign to honour her with recognition of a stone placed on her grave,” said Marietta.

Charlie Swan the former nine-time Irish champion jump jockey, of Istabraq fame and the great great grandson is also right behind the campaign.

Ellen was part of a legendary horse racing family. Her father Johnny Osborne Senior was a trainer in Yorkshire, her brother Johnny Osborne junior was a twelve-time classic winning jockey, who won the Derby in 1869 while her husband Tom was a classic winning jockey who also won the Derby at Epsom in 1863 on Macaroni. Macaroni was trained by James Godding at Palace House stables in Newmarket now the home of the National Horse Racing Museum.

Steeped in racing Ellen took over training horses from her husband Tom, who had trained the winner of the 1884 2000 Guineas, after he died at only 46 in 1886. Official licenses did not come into force until the early part of the twentieth century, but The Jockey Club granted her a permit to train horses on the heath, effectively a license to train horses.

“I couldn’t begin to imagine the stumbling blocks a woman would have had to be accepted as a racehorse trainer in the 1880s” said Newmarket based trainer Gay Kelleway, who as a jockey became the first woman to ride a winner at Royal Ascot in 1987.

Research by Dr Esther Harper, who completed a PHD in the history of horse racing when she worked at the National Horse Racing Museum between 2013 and 2017 confirmed that the 1891 census recorded Ellen’s profession as a trainer of racehorses,  with two of her sons, (she had seven) and her only daughter living with her, her sons listed as jockeys/grooms, three stable men, three other  apprentice jockeys, and a  domestic servant all working for her at Osborne House.  In 1893 Ellen was training seventeen horses. Osborne House is now the overflow yard for Group 1 winning trainer Sir Mark Prescott at Heath House stables. “When you consider the number of people who reported to her and the number of horses, she was responsible for, it was quite a significant business she was running,” said Dr Harper.

Ellen Retired in from training 1894 and one of her sons took over at Osborne House, but we know she remained active in Newmarket well into her nineties. Ellen was a regular racegoer and highly respected in the Suffolk town. “She is clearly a well-known and respected figure at the sales and buyers would ask her opinion on yearlings and broodmares,” said Dr Harper.

A high court case, eighty years after Ellen began training, officially gave women the right to train racehorses in Britain.  The Jockey Club finally recognising the claims of Florence Nagle and Norah Wilmot.

Since 1966 Women trainers have gone on to win some of the major races in this country, particularly in the National Hunt game.  Jenny Pitman becoming the first to win the Grand National with Corbiere in 1983, a feat she repeated in 1995.  Venetia Williams, Sue Smith and Lucinda Russell, who helped with ‘The Paddock and The Pavilion podcast’ have all since trained the winner of the world’s most famous race.   Glory has also followed in the Cheltenham Gold Cup with Jenny Pitman winning in 1984 and 1991 while Henrietta Knight won the race on three successive occasions with Best Mate in the 21st century.

But there is no mistaking that Ellen Chaloner was the first woman trainer in 1886.

“It’s semi worrying that an encyclopaedia of British horse racing doesn’t mention her but concentrates on the court case of 1966.    I think she deserves significantly more recognition than she gets” said racing historian Tim Cox

Surely this campaign will correct that mistake in the racing records, promote more research on the trailblazing trainer, who tasted success at Royal Ascot and lead to a proper headstone being erected for her at Newmarket cemetery.

An Ellen Chaloner Stakes at Newmarket would be something. If you would like to know more about the campaign, please contact Marietta at

The full story of Ellen Chaloner’s fight for recognition in a male-dominated world is told by racing journalist Stephen Wallis in his latest podcast – The Trailblazing Trainer. Episode 109 – The Paddock and The Pavilion.